historical archival research

Refugee Research in 2018

Over the course of my career as a historical researcher I have focused intently on refugee research. Most recently I have been helping undertake refugee research for a book regarding a Jewish family that were separated as a consequence of the German occupation of the Netherlands during World War Two. My role in this piece of refugee research was to help the author undertake some refugee research in London at the National Archives. This aspect was exploring how refugees made their way to the United Kingdom using a variety of different vessels to make their way to a number of British ports. Jewish refugees from the Netherlands made this journey under great duress under desperate circumstances as the Nazi authorities closed in on Jews still living in the Netherlands. Some family members in the book were found through refugee research to have met their fate in the Holocaust. Furthermore, my help in this refugee research was also helpful in identifying where some of the refugees lived during their stay in the United Kingdom.

In 2016 and 2017 it was also my pleasure to work on refugee research for a number of clients that were seeking to find out where their ancestors had migrated from. My refugee research was, once again, focused at the National Archives and the British Library in London where I explored many refugee groups that had made their way to the United Kingdom during the nineteenth century. Such refugee research was rather challenging as it focused more on political refugees from many of the revolutions that occurred in mainland Europe, especially those around 1848. Despite the United Kingdom not being one of the main reception countries, my refugee research was able to identify several important movements and highlight for my clients some of the circumstances and processes that their ancestors would have undergone to enter the country.

Some of you reading may ask when my interest in refugee research began. This was back in 1996 when, under Professor Panikos Panayi at De Montfort University in Leicester in the United Kingdom, I began to take an interest in refugee research in my undergraduate studies. Our course was rather forward thinking in terms of historical topics and it was one the first courses in the United Kingdom where refugee research, race and ethnic studies and other aspects of migration formed part of the syllabus during the mid-1990s.

One of the most interesting books on refugee research I first read is by Michael Marrus and it is called ‘The Unwanted’ which initially published by Oxford University Press in 1988. This book opened up the world of refugee research for me because it highlighted some of the main movements of refugees that had occurred and defined some of the main characteristics of study. It is a book that I highly recommend on refugee research if one would like an excellent overview. One of the most engaging aspects that I found in this book was the refugees generated as a consequence of the First World War. It was evident to me very quickly that this conflict has so many aspects that up until that I was rather ignorant of, particularly the scale of human displacement in Central Europe. Indeed, as I am sure many of you might remember, the focus of historical writing presented at pre-university level tended to be on the military aspects of the First World War and particularly trench warfare. Aspects such as refugee research were not, if my memory serves me correctly, at the forefront.

Once I had completed my undergraduate degree I opted to remain at De Montfort University for my first postgraduate Masters Degree in Modern History to pursue refugee research. One of the most enticing topics that I came across during my undergraduate studies on refugee research was the European Voluntary Worker programme following the Second World War that I discuss more fully below as it would form my PhD research and first major publication. For my main thesis of refugee research I focused on the communities in the city of Leicester that had formed as a consequence of the European Voluntary Programme. My refugee research found that the Polish, Serbian and Ukrainian nationalities appeared to be the largest groups in the city with all three having religious sites and social establishments. For my refugee research I trained in oral history and conducted a number of in-depth life interviews to get a better understanding of some of the cultural practices and histories of each refugee community. For those that are seeking to embellish their refugee research then I would highly recommend this process but one must, of course, undertake the appropriate training at a recognised establishment and proceed with as much sensitivity as possible. My refugee research on each community tended to find that the 1960s and early 1970s tended to be when each community had most cultural activity being undertaken although there had been continuous activities.

Since then I have read, worked and published in the field of refugee research a great deal. It would not be until 2011 that I would publish my first work on refugee research for Lambert Academic Publishing which was centred on Britain’s European Voluntary Worker Programme following the Second World War. The book explores how a contract labour programme selected potential recruits from among a pool of over a million refugees using a number of techniques. These hoped to select not only those that were likely to be fittest for manual labour but also those among the population of refugees that were causing political difficulties for the British occupation authorities as well as the British Government. Essentially, my refugee research found that the refugees were being used by the┬ánegotiators from the Soviet Union as a stumbling block in post-war negotiations that were determining the future of Europe. It was therefore prudent for the British Government to begin to make an indent of the issue of the refugees and provide something a further example to other countries thinking of accepting more refugees. Despite their endeavour there were a number of flaws in the programme, such as misleading information given to refugees on the number of years that they would have to work in Britain before being able to remain permanently or migrate onward, some rather tawdry employment roles and, of course, accommodation that ought to have been of a higher standard. Nonetheless, it was possible through my refugee research that there were some quite extraordinary developments in the accommodation sector, propaganda to ease social integration and some efforts with civic society that were worth uncovering.

Using Archival Researcher for your Refugee Research

If you have some refugee research that would like to undertake then please give a call to discuss your project and obtain a free quotation on 07734739167 from inside the United Kingdom and +44 7734739167 from outside or email me: dr.maslen@archivalresearcher.co.uk



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